The central region of Texas is a known hotspot of biological wonders. For the last five years, Dr. JoVonn Hill, an Assistant Professor and Director of the Mississippi Entomological Museum (MEM) at Mississippi State University, and his colleagues have made scientific expeditions to the area that have now revealed an extraordinary find.
The team uncovered seven previously unknown flightless grasshopper species, six of them endemic to the Edwards Plateau, which underscores the region’s extraordinary biodiversity.
With this discovery, Dr. Hill is paying tribute to two iconic musicians. In recognition of the “immense contributions” of Texas legends Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker, he has named two of these flightless grasshopper species after them.
“Melanoplus nelsoni and Melanoplus walkeri immortalize the enduring contributions of these legendary musicians and their connection to Texas,” he says.
“After these last few summers [of field studies], just like Mr. Nelson, we too have a little Texas in our souls,” he writes in his study, which was just published in the journal ZooKeys.
On Melanoplus walkeri, he writes: “Walker’s songs such as Hill Country Rain, Leavin’ Texas, and Sangria Wine brought me and my field team joy while traveling between field sites and added to the amazing ambiance of the Edwards Plateau.” In fact, the artist recorded his most influential album not far away from the spot where the new species was discovered.
Additionally, the team acknowledges the cultural heritage and deep connection to the region of the Comanche and Tonkawa tribes, naming two species after them, Melanoplus commanche and Melanoplus tonkawa respectively.
“These designations recognize the profound historical and cultural significance of the tribes in the region,” Dr. Hill explains.
“These seven newly described species, alongside two preexisting ones, form a cohesive species group, highlighting their shared characteristics and evolutionary relationships,” Dr. Hill says in conclusion. “The formation of this new species group presents a significant contribution to our understanding of the diverse ecosystems present in central Texas,” he adds.
The discovery of these seven flightless grasshopper species and the formation of a new species group underscore the ecological uniqueness of central Texas, Dr. Hill says. He and the staff of the Mississippi Entomological Museum remain committed to scientific exploration and understanding, promoting the conservation of biodiversity, and inspiring a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world.
Hill JG (2023) Diversification deep in the heart of Texas: seven new grasshopper species and establishment of the Melanoplus discolor species group (Orthoptera, Acrididae, Melanoplinae). ZooKeys 1165: 101-136. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1165.104047
Until 1st July 2023, participants at the annual TDWG conference – which will be taking place 9-13 October in Tasmania, Australia – will be able to submit their abstracts to present in-person or virtually.
For an eighth year in a row, all conference abstracts will be submitted to TDWG via the Association’s own journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS Journal), published by Pensoft and powered by the end-to-end publishing platform ARPHA. Using the ‘mini-paper’ format, participants are not only openly and efficiently sharing their work with the world, but they also get to enjoy many features typically exclusive to ‘standard’ research papers, including DOI registration on Crossref, semantic enrichment and structural elements (e.g., tables, figures), all of which are stored as easily exported data.
Apart from an abstract submission portal, BISS Journal also serves as a permanent, openly accessible scholarly source for all contributions concerning the creation, maintenance, and promotion of open community-driven data standards to enable sharing and use of biodiversity data for all.
As in previous years, the abstracts will be published ahead of the event itself to provide the community with a sneak preview of the conference. The 2023 collection of abstracts, will allow readers to explore the abstracts by session (e.g., symposia, posters, contributed presentations, keynotes). Sometime after the conference, check out the media tab on most abstracts for slides presented and a link to session video when it is posted on TDWG’s YouTube channel.
Visit the TDWG 2023 conference website for more information about the scientific program, registration, abstract submission and more. Ahead, during and after the conference, join the conversation on Twitter and Mastodon via #tdwg2023.
Semislugs, or ‘snugs’ as they are affectionately known among mollusc researchers, are like the squatters of the snail world: they do carry a home on their back but it is too small to live in. Still, it offers a sort of protection, while not getting in the way of the worm-like physique of the slug. For reasons unknown, on the island of Borneo, which is shared among the countries of Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, most slugs are of the semislug type. The genus Microparmarion there consists of around 10 semislug species, most of which are found in the cooler forests of the mountains. So, when citizen scientists discovered a Microparmarion in the hot lowland forest of Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei, as part of their expedition, they were surprised.
For the past years, the scientific travel agency Taxon Expeditions, in collaboration with Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) has been organising biodiversity discovery trips for scientists, students, and laypersons to this forest. On the first trip, in 2018, during a night walk, participant Simon Berenyi, who runs an ethical pest control company in the UK, reached up to a dead leaf suspended over the trail. Everybody—the other participants, even the resident snail expert—had ducked and passed underneath this dead leaf without so much as giving it a glance. But something on its surface caught Simon’s eye. “Oi, is that a slug?” he exclaimed, and picked a slimy, well-camouflaged mollusc off it.
At the time, the team’s zoologists already suspected it was a new species – nothing like it had ever been found in this corner of the island. But that single specimen was not enough to publish its description as a new species. Over the years, successive expeditions to the same area came up with several more specimens of the same species, which made it clear that it was really a species never seen before.
On the 2022 expedition, a team composed of UBD students Nurilya Ezzwan and Izzah Hamdani and citizen scientist Harrison Wu from Virginia, USA, finished the description. Using the portable lab that Taxon Expeditions always carries with them, the team studied the animals’ shell, reproductive organs, and DNA, and prepared a paper for the open-access Biodiversity Data Journal, where it was published this week.
As usual on Taxon Expedition trips, on the last night the team voted on the scientific name for the new species. With an overwhelming majority, the ‘snug’ was named after Mr. Md Salleh Abdullah Bat, the field centre supervisor, who would retire just weeks after the team left. Mr. Salleh himself agrees that it is indeed a very fitting farewell gift.
Schilthuizen M, Berenyi S, Ezzwan NSMN, Hamdani NIAA, Wu H, De Antoni L, Vincenzi L, de Gier W, van Peursen ADP, Njunjić I, Delledonne M, Slik F, Grafe U, Cicuzza D (2023) A new semi-slug of the genus Microparmarion from Brunei, discovered, described and DNA-barcoded on citizen-science ‘taxon expeditions’ (Gastropoda, Stylommatophora, Ariophantidae). Biodiversity Data Journal 11: e101579. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.11.e101579
When University of California, Berkeley, entomologist Kipling Will first heard that former Gov. Jerry Brown was hosting field scientists on his Colusa County ranch, he jumped at the chance to hunt for beetles on the property.
“I reached out and said, ‘Hey, I want to sample your beetles,’” Will said. “And [Brown] was quite game to let me come up there.”
Will, a professor of environmental science, policy and management, has travelled to all corners of California to study carabid beetles, ground beetles that are important predators of other insects. But Will’s repeated visits to Brown’s ranch proved especially fruitful.
While sampling for insects near Freshwater Creek, Will collected a rare species of beetle that had never been named or described — and which, according to records, had not been observed by scientists in over 55 years. The new species will be named Bembidion brownorum, in honor of Brown and his wife, Anne Brown.
“I’m very glad that [my ranch] is advancing science in some interesting and important ways,” said Brown, who has hosted a wild variety of field researchers, including geologists, anthropologists and botanists, on the property. “There are so many undiscovered species. I think it’s very important that we catalog and discover what we have and understand their impact on the environment — how it’s functioning and how it’s changing.”
Brown’s 2,500-acre ranch is about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento, in an agricultural region where most of the land is privately owned and insect biodiversity is historically understudied. For more than two years, Will has regularly sampled for insects on the ranch, sometimes even showing the beetles that he finds to the Browns.
Jerry Brown said his dedication to welcoming researchers onto his land is rooted in the ranch’s history as a stagecoach stop called Mountain House, and in his own interest in climate change and conservation.
“We don’t have stagecoach stop, but we have a place of gathering, of research and collaboration,” said Brown, who is currently chair of the California-China Climate Institute at UC Berkeley.
After collecting a beetle at the ranch that didn’t resemble any species he was familiar with, Will called up Bembidion expert David Maddison, a professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University, to help identify the specimen. Together, the scientists used morphological and DNA analysis to confirm that the beetle represented a completely new species.
Will then combed through entomology collections at museums throughout California in search of other specimens that may have been unlabeled or misidentified. He found only 21 other specimens of the species, the most recent of which was collected in 1966.
The lack of any more recent specimens indicated to him that the species likely collapsed during the second half of the 20th century, driven out of its natural habitat by rapid urbanization and agricultural development across the state.
“The sad truth is, [the species] has probably been in a huge decline. If you look at the places that it was found the ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s, almost none of that natural habitat is left,” Will said. “But we don’t know for sure. So, the thing to do is to get it out there, describe it and tell people, ‘Hey, look for this thing,’ because maybe we’ll find some place where it’s doing fine.
“Having access to Jerry’s ranch in Colusa County gives me the opportunity to really spend time sampling, to look for rare things like this.”
Will and Maddison describe Bembidion brownorum in a study published in the journal Zookeys.
Big for a Bembidion
To the naked eye, Bembidion brownorum isn’t particularly remarkable: The diminutive beetle is brown in color and measures around 5 millimeters in length, about the diameter of a standard pencil. But under magnification, it glows with a green and gold metallic shimmer.
It was the unusual shape of the beetle’s prothorax, the segment of the insect that sits right behind its head, that first caught Will’s eye.
“I was looking at this one beetle thinking, ‘It just doesn’t fit any of the ones that I can identify,’” Will said. “The shape of prothorax is just not like any of the others.”
According to Maddison, Bembidion brownorum is also relatively large compared to other Bembidion beetles, which are usually closer to 3 to 4 millimeters in length.
“It’s big for a Bembidion,” Maddison said. “At first glance, it was pretty obvious that it was probably something new.”
With so few examples to study, it’s difficult to describe the lifestyle and behavior of Bembidion brownorum with any certainty, Will said. However, given where the beetle was found on Brown’s ranch — in the vicinity of Freshwater Creek, which occasionally dries into a series of trellis-like pools in the summer months — it is likely that the beetle lives near the edges of bodies of water that periodically flood and then evaporate.
The 21 historical specimens of Bembidion brownorum are housed at either the Essig Museum Entomology Collection at UC Berkeley or at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which both have insect specimens going back more than 100 years. The discovery highlights the vital importance of maintaining these collections for current and future research, the scientists said.
“One of the things that I find interesting about is that, before Kip found that specimen, there were already specimens in collections — there was this hidden diversity that people didn’t recognize,” Maddison said. “At one point, [the beetle] probably was much more widespread and much more common, and Kip and I have some ideas as to where you would target to try to find more.”
Previous specimens were collected at locations throughout the Central Valley and in the Los Angeles Basin, regions that have been transformed over the last century. While the beetle may still survive in some areas, Will said that the patchwork of private landownership may make it difficult to find.
“There is a lot of desire to conserve the environment and combat climate change, but in many cases, we’re not keeping up with the rate of extinction — we’re not able to describe the species that need to be described as fast as things are going extinct,” Will said. “And this certainly is true in California, where there are an awful lot of undescribed insects out there and not a lot being done to get them described. I think that having more knowledge of what they are and where they where they live is really fundamental.”
John S. Sproul of the University of Nebraska Omaha is also a co-author of the study. This research was supported by the Harold E. and Leona M. Rice Endowment Fund at Oregon State University.
The so-called High Seas Treaty is a legal framework for the protection of marine biodiversity and responsible and equitable use of resources of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBJN). Its draft, published on the 5th of March 2023, is the outcome of two decades of negotiations, and is part of the international effort to protect a third of the world’s biodiversity by 2030.
An unwavering dedication to the protection and conservation of biodiversity will be required to see the firm landing of this hopeful step.
On this occasion, we look back at some impactful studies published in our journals that have made waves, hopefully in the right direction towards impactful conservation measures and actions.
Following President Barack Obama’s expansion of the largest permanent Marine Protected Area on Earth (Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument) in 2016, a new species of coral-reef fish was named in his honour. The fish is the only known coral-reef species to be endemic to the Monument, and, despite its small size, it carries wide-reaching cultural and political significance as a reminder of how politics go hand in hand with science.
The Clarion-Clipperton Zone, managed by the International Seabed Authority, has been targeted by deep-sea mining interests. In the context of heightened concern over potential biodiversity loss, scientific research is crucial for informing policy-makers and the general public about the risks and outcomes of such initiatives.
The rich biodiversity of the deep sea has also been documented in big-scale taxonomic inventories and checklists in the Biodiversity Data Journal.
Going forward, the expansion of Marine Protected Areas should also ensure the implementation of policies for the methods of resource extraction and their equitable sharing and use among the world’s nations.
Over the next few years, we hope to see an ever increasing interest in biodiversity conservation - from the general public, stakeholders and policy makers, and, of course, research institutions.
We need to love what we protect in order to be able to protect it.
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I am a retired government bureaucrat who worked for 40 years as an administrator in state and federal taxation. I have absolutely no formal training in botany, but now I find myself as an active participant in a major taxonomic revision and a coauthor in the publication of 18 new species in a plant family called Costaceae. This is the story of how my gardening hobby turned into an avocation and led me to work with some of the premier botanists in the world. It is also the story of how I have met several other plant enthusiasts from countries throughout the tropics who have contributed so very much to our work. I write this story in the hopes of encouraging more professional scientists to incorporate the observations of such “citizen scientists” in their research, and to encourage these enthusiasts to more carefully document their observations and post their photos and notes to resources like Inaturalist.org.
My story started about 30 years ago when my wife gave me a rhizome of the white butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) as a Christmas present. I became interested in gingers, species of the family Zingiberaceae, but soon my interests began to focus almost exclusively on the closely related “spiral gingers” in the family Costaceae. I loved the architecture of the plants with their spiral staircase of leaves leading up to a variety of shapes and colors of bracts and flowers. I started collecting any cultivated Costus plants I could find in nurseries or mail-order catalogues. Soon, I learned that only a few species can survive outdoors in the winter where I live, so built a greenhouse.
My serious interest in Costaceae began after I obtained a copy of the 1972 monograph of New World Costaceae by Dr. Paul Maas. It became my bible.
As I studied his descriptions of the species and applied his identification keys to the cultivated plants, I soon realized that many of the popular Costus species in cultivation had been incorrectly identified. I started doing presentations to garden clubs and posting to online groups. I developed a website called “Gingers ‘R’ Us.”
My “real job” had me traveling to Washington, DC periodically and I always tried to carve out time to visit Mike Bordelon at the Smithsonian Greenhouses in Suitland, Maryland. On one of these trips, I met Dr. Chelsea Specht, who was working at the Smithsonian Institution as a postdoctoral fellow.
She had written what I believe is the first molecular study in Costaceae in 2001.This opened up a whole new world of interest for me as I tried to understand these new-to-me terms, like “clades” and “phylogenetic relationships”. In this paper she introduced the new generic divisions of the family that were solidified five years later in a more complete phylogenetic study . Chelsea very patiently answered my novice questions about phylogenetic trees and how they relate to the taxonomy of the plants.
In 2005 I made my first trip to the New World tropics looking for Costus in its native habitat. On the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, I was incredibly lucky to meet Reinaldo Aguilar, the world-famous “para-taxonomist” who has studied the plants of the Osa for over 30 years. He is is self-taught like me and does not have a botanical degree, but has coauthored many scientific articles. He worked closely with the late Scott Mori of the New York Botanical Garden and was honored in a 2017 article in NYBG Science Talk.
That first trip to Costa Rica had me hooked. I fell in love with tropical forests and over the next few years made trips to several other Latin American countries as well as back to Costa Rica. Always, my focus was on Costus and the other members of its family.
Along the way, I met several “unsung heroes” in the plant world, like Marco Jiménez Villata, whom I met in the town of Zamora in southern Ecuador. Marco specializes in orchids, but he is also a generalist and knows a lot about the plants of southern Ecuador. He (now retired) was a school administrator and had traveled to many remote villages in the province and was always on the lookout for interesting plants. I have traveled with Marco and his son Marco Jiménez León several other times and we have become good friends.
In 2015 we went to the type locality of the species Costus zamoranus and took the first photographs of this species. At that trip, Marco showed me an area of high elevation near the Podocarpus National Park, where I found an unusual-looking Costus that we are now describing as Costus oreophilus. He also showed me unexplored places where I found another new species, Costus convexus. I made sure we credited him with his role in the discovery and documentation of those new species in our publication in PhytoKeys.
I have also traveled several times in Panama and Ecuador with another very well known, but non-doctorate plant enthusiast – Carla Black. Carla is the president of the Heliconia Society International, an organization uniting enthusiasts (scientists and non-scientists) in the order Zingiberales.
In 2015 we searched for the critically endangered Costus vinosus. We found a few plants growing deep in the forest of the Chagres National Park along an old Spanish trail used to transport gold to the Atlantic coast. There is still a mystery regarding the true form of the flower of C. vinosus, and I am in touch with another Inaturalist observer who has found it (not in flower) in the mountains northeast of Panama City. He will let me know when he finds it in flower!
In 2019 Carla and I visited the “Willie Mazu” site in Panama to photograph and study the new species Costus callosus, and in Santa Fé de Veraguas, we looked for a species proposed by Dr. Maas that is now described as Costus alleniopsis.
My serious collaboration with Dr. Maas began in 2017, when I was preparing for a trip to Oaxaca in southern Mexico. He asked me to be on the lookout for two species of Costus from that region that he had identified as new based solely on his examination of herbarium specimens, without any good data on the floral parts.
By that time, I was posting my Costus observations on Inaturalist.org and using that resource to look for interesting plants. I also used it to find plant people to contact for local information. For this Mexico trip I found a huge number of observations posted by Manuel Gutiérrez from Oaxaca City.
I found that he had extensive knowledge of the Chinantla region in the mountains east of Oaxaca City and had worked with the indigenous tribe there. Together, we explored the indigenous lands of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla.
We found many plants in flower of what Dr. Maas wanted to describe as Costus alticolus. We also found the species he planned to describe as Costus oaxacus, but I later found the same species in Guatemala, already described as Costus sepacuitensis.
Later I learned of the plans to prepare a complete revision to the taxonomy of the New World Costaceae. Together with Paul and Hiltje Maas, we spent several days at the Naturalis Herbarium in Leiden, comparing my photos against the hundreds of Costus herbarium specimens there. I had a long list of species that was curious about, and we were able to get through it and figure out what questions remained, even though we had not come up with all the answers.
It was soon apparent that there are major changes needed in the taxonomy and nomenclature of these plants, and that information from the field would be an essential supplement to the observations made from the herbarium specimens.
In 2016 I visited the type locality of Costus laevis in central Peru. I was surprised to find that the plants there are nothing at all like the Costus laevis of Central America, but match perfectly to the herbarium specimen that was deposited in Spain over 230 years ago. It was clear to me that the herbarium specimen designated as the type had been misinterpreted. I wrote an article explaining the problem – but I had no idea what the solution might be.
Dr. Maas agreed that there was a problem with that species that we eventually resolved. This resolution will be a part of the forthcoming revision of the New World Costaceae that is in preparation, nearing completion.
Another major problem involved the Costus guanaiensis complex. Paul and Hiltje, along with Chelsea, had visited the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium, where the holotype of that species is held, and realized that it had been misinterpreted due to the lack of a good flower description. What had been identified as Costus guanaiensis in the herbarium was actually a completely different species that Maas had planned to describe as a new species.
The entire C. guanaiensis complex needed name changes and redefinitions of species boundaries, ultimately resulting in the description of Costus gibbosus that is published in PhytoKeys. The resolution of the other members of that complex will be explained in the forthcoming revision. Over the next several years, Paul and I exchanged 1,626 emails (yes, I counted them – with the help of MS Outlook) pounding out the details of the changes needed in the taxonomy of New World Costaceae. In collaboration with him, I made many more field trips to resolve the remaining questions we had.
My extensive collaboration with Paul Maas has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my lifetime. He has taught me so much about the rules of nomenclature and the process of describing a new species. The one thing he could never teach me was his almost uncanny ability to look at a dried herbarium specimen and make a determination of the species. I suppose that only comes from experience as he has examined over 11,000 specimens of Costaceae that will become our list of exxicatae when the full revision is published.
I should not fail to mention my time working with Dr. Thiago André. In 2014 I flew to Rio de Janeiro and then Thi and I, along with his academic advisor and another student, went to the state of Espirito Santo to look for the endangered species Chamaecostus cuspidatus. Thi has been our expert in that genus and has helped with the review of the new species published in PhytoKeys, Chamaecostus manausensis. In 2014 he was still finishing his doctorate and was in process of preparing a molecular phylogeny and morphological study of the species complex of Chamaecostus subsessilis.
Thi and I have stayed in close contact, and he came to Florida one year to visit in my home and see the Costaceae in my private garden, Le Jardín Ombragé. He is now a professor at the Universidade de Brasília.
Finally, I should discuss my collaboration with Eugenio Valderrama and the other members of the Specht Lab at Cornell University. In 2018 I went to Cornell to visit Eugenio and we discussed the sampling to be used in the molecular phylogeny that will be a very important part of the full revision when it is published.
At Cornell, Eugenio produced a novel baiting schema for extracting specific genes from across all Costus species and in 2020 published a paper. With further sampling, another paper was published in 2022 to reveal interesting data on a whole package of pollination-related characters, and how they show evidence of convergent evolution. Eugenio’s phylogenies very well support the new species we are publishing in PhytoKeys, and the full molecular phylogeny will be included in our full revision when it is published.
Just this past December I went to Colombia to attend the Heliconia Society Conference at Quindío, and Eugenio and I each made presentations there about our work with Costaceae. Then we traveled together to investigate several other interesting species of Costaceae, including the new species Costus antioquiensis, and a strange yellow bracted form of Costus comosus found in the species-rich area of San Juan de Arama in Meta.
How did I know to look there? An observer, a citizen scientist, had posted his records and photos on Inaturalist.org. I have my account set to filter all Costaceae and send me a daily email with all the new postings of the family, and this plant will now be appearing as a sample in a molecular phylogeny and as an observed species in a monograph.
I hope this blog article will provide some background and insight into what I think must be an unusual collaboration between a citizen scientist and the much more qualified lead authors of our PhytoKeys article describing eighteen new species in Costaceae. It has certainly been a rewarding experience for me, and I hope other plant enthusiasts will be encouraged to share their observations on forums like Inaturalist.org, providing detailed and accurate information and photos. At least for the one plant family I have some expertise in, I will continue to monitor and curate those observations on Inaturalist.
André T, Specht CD, Salzman S, Palma-Silva C, Wendt T (2015) Evolution of species diversity in the genus Chamaecostus (Costaceae): Molecular phylogenetics and morphometric approaches. Phytotaxa 204(4): 265-276. https://doi.org/10.11646/phytotaxa.204.4.3
Maas, P. J. M. (1972). Costoideae (Zingiberaceae). Flora Neotropica 8, 1–139. doi: 10.1093/aob/mch177
Salzman S, Driscoll HE, Renner T, André T, Shen S, Specht CD (2015) Spiraling into history: A molecular phylogeny and investigation of biogeographic origins and floral evolution for the genus Costus. Systematic Botany 40(1): 104–115. https://doi.org/10.1600/036364415X686404
Skinner D (2008) Costus of the Golfo Dulce Region. Heliconia Society Bulletin 14(4):1-6
Skinner D and Jiménez M (2015) Costus zamoranus: An endemic species to Zamora-Chinchipe Province in Southeastern Ecuador. Heliconia Society Bulletin 21(3):4-9
Skinner D (2016) Following Ruiz. Heliconia Society Bulletin 22(4): 7–14.
Skinner D and Black C. (2016) Search for the Mysterious Lost Plant (Costus vinosus). Heliconia Society Bulletin 22(3):1-3
Skinner D (2019) A Tale of Two Costus (Costus sepacuitensis) and Costus cupreifolius) Heliconia Society Bulletin 25(1):1-3
Specht CD, Kress WJ, Stevenson DW, DeSalle R (2001) A molecular phylogeny of Costaceae (Zingiberales). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 21(3): 333–345. https://doi.org/10.1006/mpev.2001.1029
Valderrama E, Sass C, Pinilla-Vargas M, Skinner D, Maas PJM, Maas-van de Kamer H, Landis JB, Guan CJ, AlmeidaA., Specht CD (2020) Unraveling the spiraling radiation: A phylogenomic analysis of neotropical Costus L. Frontiers in Plant Science 11: 1195. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2020.01195
Valderrama E, Landis JB, Skinner D, Maas PJM, Maas-van de Kamer H, Sass C, Pinilla-Vargas M, Guan CJ, Phillips R, Almeida A, Specht CD (2022) The genetic mechanisms underlying the convergent evolution of pollination syndromes in the Neotropical radiation of Costus L.Frontiers in Plant Science 13: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2022.874322
“In the present biodiversity crisis scenario, it is critical that we do not neglect basic scientific disciplines like taxonomy, since cataloguing biodiversity is a fundamental step towards its preservation.”
The knowledge of biodiversity in allegedly well-known places is not as complete as one would expect and its detailed study by researchers continues to offer surprises, is what we find out in a new study of the flora of south-central Spain.
Now, Spanish botanists from Pablo de Olavide University (Seville, Spain) have described a new plant species of the papyrus family (Cyperaceae) restricted to the La Mancha region in south-central Spain. This region is in fact well-known for classic literary fans, who might recognise the name as the main setting in Miguel de Cervantes’ (1547–1616) masterpiece Don Quixote.
The epic novel, which tells the story of the life and journeys of Alonso Quijano, a Spanish hidalgo (nobleman), who becomes the knight-errant Don Quixote de la Mancha, is commonly considered to be one of the greatest literary works ever written, with its number of editions and translations thought to be only surpassed by those of the Bible.
The new species, now scientifically known as Carex quixotiana, belongs to sedges of the genus Carex, a group of herbs included in the papyrus family (Cyperaceae). The classification (taxonomy) of these plants is difficult, as it is a highly diverse and widely distributed genus, whose species are frequently hard to tell apart. In fact, C. quixotiana has itself evaded the eyes of expert botanists for decades, because of its close resemblance to related species.
“Cryptic species are frequent in complex plant groups, such as sedges, and integrative studies encompassing different data sources (e.g. morphology, molecular phylogeny, chromosome number, ecological requirements) are needed to unravel systematic relationships and accurately describe biodiversity patterns,”
says Dr. Martín-Bravo, senior author of the paper.
After a preliminary genetic study pointed to something odd about specimens of what was later to be known as Carex quixotiana, the authors set off on exhaustive field collecting campaigns across La Mancha. As they studied additional populations of the plant in further detail, using morphology, phylogenetics, and chromosome number, the scientists confirmed that they were looking at a species previously unknown to science. Understandably, the distribution range of the newly discovered species, restricted to the mountain ranges surrounding La Mancha (Sierra Madrona and Montes de Toledo), made the authors think about Cervantes’ masterpiece.
So far only known from 16 populations, Carex quixotiana prefers habitats with high water availability, such as small streams, wet meadows and riverside (riparian) forests.
Since little is known about the species’ demographics, including the number of mature individuals in the wild, further investigation is required to determine its conservation status. However, based on what they have learnt so far about the species, the authors of the present study assume that:
In conclusion, the scientists point to their results as yet another proof of how much there is still to learn about Earth’s biodiversity, even when it comes to supposedly well-known organisms, such as flowering plants, and countries, whose flora is presumed to be fully documented. The “Flora Iberica”, for example, which covers Spain and Portugal, has only recently been finalised, the team reminds us.
Benítez-Benítez C, Jiménez-Mejías P, Luceño M, Martín-Bravo S (2023) Carex quixotiana (Cyperaceae), a new Iberian endemic from Don Quixote’s land (La Mancha, S Spain). PhytoKeys 221: 161-186. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.221.99234
Spiders of the family Araneidae are known for building vertical orbicular webs to catch upon prey. They can be easily identified by their eye pattern, the abdomen normally overlapping the carapace, and complex genitalia. The family currently has 188 genera and 3,119 species worldwide.
Two scientists from Murdoch University in Perth (Australia), Dr Pedro Castanheira and Dr Volker Framenau, described a new spider genus of Araneids following a comprehensive study of orb-weaving spiders found in Australian zoological collections. They named it after one of their favourites bands, the Swedish pop group ABBA, paying tribute to the band members Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.
The band’s “songs and subsequent musicals Mamma Mia! (2008) and Mamma Mia – Here We Go again! (2018), provided hours of entertainment for the authors,” they explain in their study, which was published in the journal Evolutionary Systematics.
The new genus is composed of a relatively small single species (ca. 3-4 mm), Abba transversa (Rainbow, 1912), whose specimens are currently known from the coastal area of New South Wales and Queensland. It is differentiated from other species within the family by the presence of two dark spots in the middle of abdomen and by the thick macrosetae on the first pair of legs of the males.
The description comes after 15 years of scientific work, with the researchers looking at 12,000 records in Australian museums and overseas collections.
“Describing new taxa is vital for conservation management plans to assess biodiversity and protect forests areas across Australia,” says study author Dr Pedro Castanheira. “Currently, 80% of Australian spider species are unknown, and many of the described ones are misplaced in different genera, like Abba transversa used to be.”
Castanheira PS, Framenau VW (2023) Abba, a new monotypic genus of orb-weaving spiders (Araneae, Araneidae) from Australia. Evolutionary Systematics 7(1): 73-81. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.7.98015
The dynamic open-science project collection of BiCIKL, titled “Towards interlinked FAIR biodiversity knowledge: The BiCIKL perspective” (doi: 10.3897/rio.coll.105), continues to grow, as the project progresses into its third year and its results accumulate ever so exponentially.
Following the publication of three important BiCIKL deliverables: the project’s Data Management Plan, its Visual identity package and a report, describing the newly built workﬂow and tools for data extraction, conversion and indexing and the user applications from OpenBiodiv, there are currently 30 research outcomes in the BiCIKL collection that have been shared publicly to the world, rather than merely submitted to the European Commission.
Shortly after the BiCIKL project started in 2021, a project-branded collection was launched in the open-science scholarly journal Research Ideas and Outcomes(RIO). There, the partners have been publishing – and thus preserving – conclusive research papers, as well as early and interim scientific outputs.
The publications so far also include the BiCIKL grant proposal, which earned the support of the European Commission in 2021; conference abstracts, submitted by the partners to two consecutive TDWG conferences; a project report that summarises recommendations on interoperability among infrastructures, as concluded from a hackathon organised by BiCIKL; and two Guidelines papers, aiming to trigger a culture change in the way data is shared, used and reused in the biodiversity field.
At the time of writing, the top three of the most read papers in the BiCIKL collection is completed by the grant proposal and the second Guidelines paper, where the partners – based on their extensive and versatile experience – present recommendations about the use of annotations and persistent identifiers in taxonomy and biodiversity publishing.
What one might find quite odd when browsing the BiCIKL collection is that each publication is marked with its own publication source, even though all contributions are clearly already accessible from RIO Journal.
This is because one of the unique features of RIOallows for consortia to use their project collection as a one-stop access point for all scientific results, regardless of their publication venue, by means of linking to the original source via metadata. Additionally, projects may also upload their documents in their original format and layout, thanks to the integration between RIO and ARPHA Preprints. This is in fact how BiCIKL chose to share their latest deliverables using the very same files they submitted to the Commission.
“In line with the mission of BiCIKL and our consortium’s dedication to FAIRness in science, we wanted to keep our project’s progress and results fully transparent and easily accessible and reusable to anyone, anywhere,”
explains Prof Lyubomir Penev, BiCIKL’s Project Coordinator and founder and CEO of Pensoft.
“This is why we opted to collate the outcomes of BiCIKL in one place – starting from the grant proposal itself, and then progressively adding workshop reports, recommendations, research papers and what not. By the time BiCIKL concludes, not only will we be ready to refer back to any step along the way that we have just walked together, but also rest assured that what we have achieved and learnt remains at the fingertips of those we have done it for and those who come after them,” he adds.
Apart from coordinating the Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL, scholarly publisher and technology provider Pensoft has been the engine behind what is likely to be the first production-stage semantic system to run on top of a reasonably-sized biodiversity knowledge graph.
OpenBiodiv is a biodiversity database containing knowledge extracted from scientific literature, built as an Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management System.
As of February 2023, OpenBiodiv contains 36,308 processed articles; 69,596 taxon treatments; 1,131 institutions; 460,475 taxon names; 87,876 sequences; 247,023 bibliographic references; 341,594 author names; and 2,770,357 article sections and subsections.
In fact, OpenBiodiv is a whole ecosystem comprising tools and services that enable biodiversity data to be extracted from the text of biodiversity articles published in data-minable XML format, as in the journals published by Pensoft (e.g. ZooKeys, PhytoKeys, MycoKeys, Biodiversity Data Journal), and other taxonomic treatments – available from Plazi and Plazi’s specialised extraction workflow – into Linked Open Data.
“The basics of what was to become the OpenBiodiv database began to come together back in 2015 within the EU-funded BIG4 PhD project of Victor Senderov, later succeeded by another PhD project by Mariya Dimitrova within IGNITE. It was during those two projects that the backend Ontology-O, the first versions of RDF converters and the basic website functionalities were created,”
At the time OpenBiodiv became one of the nine research infrastructures within BiCIKL tasked with the provision of virtual access to open FAIR data, tools and services, it had already evolved into a RDF-based biodiversity knowledge graph, equipped with a fully automated extraction and indexing workflow and user apps.
Currently, Pensoft is working at full speed on new user apps in OpenBiodiv, as the team is continuously bringing into play invaluable feedback and recommendation from end-users and partners at BiCIKL.
As a result, OpenBiodiv is already capable of answering open-ended queries based on the available data. To do this, OpenBiodiv discovers ‘hidden’ links between data classes, i.e. taxon names, taxon treatments, specimens, sequences, persons/authors and collections/institutions.
Thus, the system generates new knowledge about taxa, scientific articles and their subsections, the examined materials and their metadata, localities and sequences, amongst others. Additionally, it is able to return information with a relevant visual representation about any one or a combination of those major data classes within a certain scope and semantic context.
Users can explore the database by either typing in any term (even if misspelt!) in the search engine available from the OpenBiodiv homepage; or integrating an Application Programming Interface (API); as well as by using SPARQL queries.
On the OpenBiodiv website, there is also a list of predefined SPARQL queries, which is continuously being expanded.
“OpenBiodiv is an ambitious project of ours, and it’s surely one close to Pensoft’s heart, given our decades-long dedication to biodiversity science and knowledge sharing. Our previous fruitful partnerships with Plazi, BIG4 and IGNITE, as well as the current exciting and inspirational network of BiCIKL are wonderful examples of how far we can go with the right collaborators,”